Quad bikes, compliance, mandates, misdirection and rules

Last week it became illegal for a new or second-hand quad bike to be sold in Australia without a crush protection device (CPD) fitted at the point of sale. This achievement has been decades in coming and has involved bitter fighting between advocates of safety and the sellers and manufacturers of this equipment.

This blog has followed this controversy for years. Quad bike safety is a significant illustration of the political and commercial pressures that have argued for a lowered level of safety than was possible. This conflict is perhaps the most public display of a moral conflict whose resolution is at the heart of occupational health and safety (OHS). (This controversy deserves a book similar to those about glyphosate and asbestos)

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We should give a fat RAT’s clacker about COVID-19 testing

Australia’s strategy for combatting the COVID-19 pandemic is almost entirely based on vaccinations. The supplementary control measures of increased ventilation, social distancing, mask-wearing and hygiene are still vitally important but have dropped off the radar a little in the rush to maximise the number of vaccinated citizens and workers. One of the measures not currently listed on the Safe Work Australia COVID-19 website (at the time of writing) is rapid antigen testing (RAT), even though this screening method is integral to reopening businesses in the United States.

RAT has started to appear in Australia. It is a valuable tool, but it is not a replacement for the medical PCR test, and there are administrative considerations that affect the occupational health and safety (OHS) management of COVID-19.

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“as far as politically practicable”

Last week WorkSafe Victoria announced that it was prosecuting the Department of Health over breaches of its occupational health and safety (OHS) duties with the management of Victoria’s Hotel Quarantine program. There is very little information available beyond what is included in the WorkSafe media release until the filing hearing at the Magistrates’ Court on October 22 2021.

Most of the current commentary adds little and usually builds on the existing campaigns to charge (Labor) Premier Dan Andrews with Industrial Manslaughter. Still, it is worth looking at WorkSafe’s media release and the thoughts of some others.

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Look at the verbs to identify leadership and commitment

On September 16 2021, the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, said:

“The first major initiative of AUKUS will be to deliver a nuclear-powered submarine fleet for Australia. Over the next eighteen months we will work together to seek to determine the best way forward to achieve this…”

The second line of this quote includes a specific timeline but less specific commitments – a combination of words that reflects much of the corporate-speak that is often used with occupational health and safety (OHS) duties and other pledges and obligations.

Morrison gives a deadline against which progress will be measured. He commits to working with the United Kingdom and the United States to meet this deadline. But then, he says they will “seek to determine” – they are not sure what they are doing, but they will look for it. And “the best way forward” for whom? And to what ends? We hope it will be to building a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, the current context.

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Mandatory vaccinations without making vaccinations mandatory

In a little over a month, the Australian conversation about mandatory vaccinations at work has changed dramatically. In early August, food processing company SPC was treated suspiciously over its requirements for its workers, customers, and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Recently, the New South Wales Premier, Glady Berejiklian, required vaccinations for workers to move outside of certain residential locations. And today, the Victorian Health Minister, Martin Foley, has all but made vaccinations mandatory for the construction industry.

As Berejiklian has shown, you don’t need to impose mandatory vaccinations to make vaccinations mandatory.

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“Too little, too late” but potential in primary prevention

On Australia’s Women’s Safety Summit, Wendy Tuohy contemplated, in The Age, after the first day;

“It may turn out to be too little, too late, but if there’s real commitment behind Morrison’s lines, we could conclude it’s a start.”

There are few signs of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s commitment. Women will continue to work in companies and workplaces where they are at risk of psychological harm from sexual harassment and physical harm from sexual assault. Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws offer a harm prevention option that nobody seems keen to consider.

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OHS progress needs out of the box thinking

It is generally understood that the attempt to harmonise Australia’s occupational health and safety (OHS) laws failed to achieve the level of change and integration expected. The laws are more harmonised than they were but each jurisdiction claimed special needs and so multiple jurisdictions continue to exist with their own laws and one State, Victoria, is still giving the bird to the rest through poorly justified arguments and pigheadedness. This unwillingness to even consider change, outside of established parameters, is a major impediment to the development of safe workplaces and work practices.

For example, Australia still desires nationally consistent OHS laws as this exchange between Deborah Knight, of radio station 2GB and the CEO of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, shows:

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